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The demise of the newspaper

We know that newspapers have been having a hard time lately, but just how hard was brought home by The State of the News Media, the annual report of American journalism published by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

While most areas of the news media bounced back in 2010 after two very poor years, newspapers continued their decline. In fact, they were the only major news sector to experience a year-on-year revenue decline. According to the Pew report, one of the problems that the news industry as a whole faces is that it has lost control of its customer.

“News organizations – old and new – still produce most of the content audiences consume. But each technological advance has added a new layer of complexity – and a new set of players – in connecting that content to consumers and advertisers.”

Of course, one of the problems that newspapers face is the Web. The shift to the Web as a news source is striking. By the end of 2010, 41 percent of Americans cited the Internet as the place where they got “most of their news about national and international issues,” up 17 percent from the year before.

When it comes to all news, 46 percent of people now say they get their news online at least three times a week, overtaking newspapers (40 percent) for the first time. Only local TV news is a more popular platform (50 percent).

Even as consumers flock to the Web for news, few seem willing to pay for it – at least not yet. While specialist news sources like Bloomberg or the Financial Times have had some success charging consumers for access to their sites, others have given up or have delayed introducing a paid content model. To date, only about 10% of those who have downloaded local news apps have paid for them.

Even when news organizations see an opportunity for a Web-based product, they face hurdles that they never had to face in print. For their audience, they are increasingly dependent on news aggregators (such as Google) or social networks (such as Facebook). Even when they try to construct a traditional subscription model for the iPad and other complementary devices, they face unfamiliar revenue-sharing demands from the device makers (such as Apple) or platform operators (Google again).

Many industry insiders are pessimistic about ever replacing falling newspaper revenues with their digital equivalents. John Paton, the head of Journal Register newspapers told a trade group in December: “We have had nearly 15 years to figure out the web and, as an industry, we newspaper people are no good at it.”

Unfortunately for newspaper publishers, there may be nothing to figure out. Like the CD or the road atlas, the newspaper is in severe danger of becoming obsolete, overtaken by an all-powerful Web and an increasingly tech-savvy population.

Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 3/15/2011, 1:01 PM:

The demise of the print newspaper is premature. While it's true that large numbers of people go online to get their news, large numbers of people read the print newspaper first then proceed to go online for online news sources. There are lots of media junkies out there. Let's not forget that the stories online often differ from the printed version. Thank you. Ellen Lebowitz
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